When the NYTimes writes about you (except for the article is about someone else)

Ariel Meadow Stallings
8 min readMar 23, 2023

In the months leading up to the publication of my third book From Shitshow To Afterglow, I exchanged many emails with the Hachette publicist who was representing the book.

“Frankly, traditional media can be a challenge for self-help,” she said.

“While this book is half self-help,” I said. “It started as a memoir and is still half first-person nonfiction. The original draft was much more cynically positioned: wedding guru goes through an abrupt divorce while touring the country coproducing wedding expos. It was very first-person Girlfriend’s Guide To Divorce with a rubbernecky ‘omg, the Offbeat Bride lady’s husband walked out!?’ angle.”

Shortly after, the New York Times published this article: What Happens When a Weddings Influencer Gets Divorced?

It was the perfect headline for promoting From Shitshow To Afterglowexcept for the part where the article was written about someone else.

So, yep that’s a thing that happened: The New York Times wrote a big long article about another alt-weddings lady who got divorced.

I dissected the article with the publicist (it’s lovely to have someone to dork out with about PR stuff!), but I kept getting messages from folks asking my thoughts, so here we go.

Before I dive in, I want to say this: I have a lot of compassion for the person profiled in this article. Her marriage fell apart, and then she lost a parent. Heartbreak and grief make a painful sandwich, and I have epic compassion for the discomfort of eating that sandwich in the public eye. I also have a lot of compassion for getting raked across the coals publicly, and wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

That said, here are my reactions to this article:

FIRST: omg, who is this person’s publicist?

As I read the article, I kept waiting for the big reveal — maybe a trip to rehab, the new book deal, or a Netflix original series or something. But I just kept reading and reading and nothing was revealed…

We get to hear about how the author built her brand, starting with partying with Leonardo DiCaprio and a book deal that she didn’t deliver on in the mid-00s, then a $250k investment from her brother to open a wedding boutique, and building a 100k follower on Instagram. Then it all fell down and it was sad, and now she’s teaching writing workshops in Brooklyn.

Wait, so maybe the reveal is about this successful new writing workshop biz? But when I looked up her new business, it only has 800 followers on Instagram. There’s no there there.

This is a pretty saggy narrative, and I’m unclear how it’s newsworthy. All I can imagine is that a very well-connected publicist pushed this story, HARD. The article is a major public relations accomplishment because, from a PR perspective, there’s just not much here to sell.

So, mad respect to the publicist, and rest assured that regardless of all else, the person profiled benefited from the article. I guarantee that her inbox was flooded with inquiries from agents, managers, and brand licensers. This article was likely a tremendous success for the author and her team! Big congrats due to those folks.

SECOND: omg, no seriously, who was the publicist?!

If my first reaction was “Wow, this is a major get for the publicist…” my second reaction was, “But holy shit, the article does the publicist’s client NO FAVORS.”

The author does not come off as especially well-spoken, insightful, or self-aware. An early book deal most folks would have died for, that she bailed on? A $250k investment from family? There’s a lot of money involved here (including a business selling $10k dresses), and not much awareness about how outlandish it all feels.

And that tone-deaf lead image, yikes. “I’m a white woman failing upward!” it screams. “Later, I will laugh alone with a salad!

Predictably, the comments on the article are brutal:

  • Staggering. The money, the ambition, the vacuity of all this.
  • OMG. What makes this newsworthy? It’s cringeworthy in almost every way.
  • A tribute to the many ways in which Shallowness can be monetized…
  • This is a story about family money & how when you have it all your life decisions get to become thoughtful experiences
  • It really says something that she felt she couldn’t be honest about her life because it would affect her brand, which, of course, means in turn that her brand is inherently dishonest; I’m not entirely sure she gets that even now.
  • This article, which I read solely because the headline seemed like one of those “you must read how this amazing person overcame adversity” pieces, was a disappointment. It read like a shameless, name-dropping advertisement, marveling at how one rich, entitled, white woman could really suffer so greatly inside while hiding it well. This is news?

So if my first thought was awe (…omg who is her publicist?), my second thought was omg, who is her publicist, and why do they hate their client so much?

THIRD: did the NYTimes intend this as a take-down?

Let’s get one thing straight: I think the NYTimes knew what they were doing. Remember, this was published in the NYTimes Style section. As the publicist told me,

One of my BFFs who doesn’t know about your book texted me a link, completely irate that the author “just borrowed $250,000 from her brother in law,” as if that is a perfectly normal thing to do. LOL. My weak defense that “it’s the Style section! this is where they celebrate decadence!” did little to talk her down.

It’s worth noting that NYTimes Style was then edited by an old-school blogging pal of mine, who is more than a little snarky.

I haven’t talked to him in a couple of years, but I had to email him and ask:

I’m dying to know, was that article this week written as a blithe take-down? The tone plays things so dang straight, but holy fuck it was WHITHERING.

My old pal wrote back immediately, ignoring my question but also totally answering my question:

ALSO I LITERALLY

WAS LIKE

HELLO MEET OFFBEAT BRIDE???

I did some educating here

The internet runs on beef and haterade. My old blogging pal and I have both been doing this shit longer than most Buzzfeed readers have been alive. We know how the game is played, and outrage wins.

The real winner here? The NYTimes’ pageviews.

FOURTH: This is excellent practice

Some of the article’s most brutal comments could have been written about me. This one, especially:

I was hoping for a deeper takeaway than “when life gives you lemons, rebrand.” The wedding industry has been selling women a bill of goods for decades; guess it was inevitable that those who profited so greatly from it would eventually tap into the “divorce industry.” Sisters, wake up!

Now, granted: I made money off of advertising, not brides as consumers.

But still.

When life gave me lemonade, I wrote another book. Then I rebranded. I have profited from the wedding industry for almost 15 years, and while Shitshow isn’t specifically about divorce, you could argue that I’m now tapping into “the divorce industry.”

Reading the comments was good practice for me. My goal is to be able to feel stable enough in my values, my process, my work, and my worthiness that I could read comments like this about me and my work and think, “That might be true,” and get on with my day.

Or I could be so evolved that I just don’t even read the comments! That’s some next-level zen shit.

Undefended love, man.

It takes a lot of practice.

That article helped me practice.

FIFTH: Maybe I’m not as privileged as I thought

Writing Shitshow, I was keenly aware of my privilege. I’m a white woman, which means I’m at the top of the racial pyramid. I’m gainfully self-employed, which means I had resources like money and time to support my recovery process. I live in a progressive city with access to awesome things. I’m relatively healthy. I have loving parents and lots of friends.

At times while writing my book, I was overcome with shame — who am I to have a hard time with this? So many people have it so much worse! I’m so spoiled.

Then I read that NY Times article and realized that actually, compared to some folks, I’m deeply scrappy. I’m a bootstrapper raised by middle-class parents. I supported my family with a business I built from scratch. Yes, I have a measure of privilege, and it felt vitally important for me to acknowledge that several times in my book — but reading this article made me realize that I may be of kidding myself when I think of myself as “privileged.”

There were no parties with Leonardo. There were no $250k family investors helping me launch my business. I did not bail on my first book deal. Maybe I’ve been flattering myself, trying to make myself sound more advantaged than I really am? It wouldn’t be the first time.

Huh.

SIXTH: It’s kinda sweet when folks get outraged on my behalf

I got so many messages from people who were irate about the article. “Where the fuck were you in this article? This wasn’t framed as a profile, so why is it only about this one lady?” said another.

One took it to Twitter:

This article is an absolutely hilarious definition of alternative weddings which includes flower crowns and the Olsen twins +the claim that she invented this genre of wedding in 2012. ⁦⁦@offbeatbride⁩ and Ariel Meadow Stallings would like a word.

“You should send an angry letter to the editor,” another sweet friend said, to which I replied, “Meh: I’d rather focus my time on working on my own stuff.”

…Stuff like, oh I don’t know, reading comments that could be written about me and seeing if I can just smile and say “That might be true” and feel ok because I’m secure in myself and good with lower-case-g god and not much else matters.

“Probably for the best,” she conceded. “But I’m pordering Shitshow out of some sort of misguided retribution.”

Aww! Sweet.

SEVENTH: I’m grateful for my different angle

My book has been on quite a journey since its original angle of What Happens When an Offbeat Weddings Influencer Gets Divorced?

I have some writer friends who still argue that the book should have been a memoir. They argue that it was short-sighted of the publishing industry to force my narrative into the self-help format.

But you know what? Given that NY Times article, I’m feeling pretty great that my book got framed less as narrative (“White Woman In Wedding Industry Feels Sad, Rebrands, Jumps On Bed And Feels Better!”) and more as a service book.

The truth is that I like helping people, and this book is about sharing my story in the interest of, well, helping people!

It allows me to share things I’ve learned about attachment theory, epigenetics, grief support, spirituality, fitness, and midlife transitions… issues that are way more interesting and relevant than just What Happens When an Offbeat Weddings Influencer Gets Divorced?

From Shitshow To Afterglow being half service book set me up to be an authority on all sorts of things other than “How I Arieled, A Book By Ariel.”

MY QUESTIONS FOR YOU

  • Do you resonate more with memoirs (“How I Arieled: A Book By Ariel”) or service-focused self-help books (“How To Be You in 10 Easy Steps”)? Why?
  • What role do people working the wedding industry play in promoting fairytale marriages?
  • What responsibility do social media influencers and online writers have when it comes to being honest with their readers? Is it right when people who share their lives online keep secrets from their readers?

This story was originally published in 2019 in The Afterglow, the now-defunct members-only publication launched in conjunction with my third book.

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Ariel Meadow Stallings

I'm a product manager at Medium, but I'm also a whole-ass person living life: author, publisher, devotional dancer, Seattleite, mom, and just a human humanning.